In April, a strange thing began happening in Welland, Ontario: Little white signs with a single pink heart drawn on them began popping up along the side of the road throughout the city.
Bereft of any message, they quickly caught the attention of a community not-yet in the grip of election fever and fed up with the miseries of winter. It didn't take long before Maryanne Firth, a reporter at the local newspaper, The Welland Tribune, began investigating the story.
The pink heart signs have been the talk of the town for weeks. It seemed everyone had a theory on their meaning. Some believed it to be a random do-gooder looking to cheer up a community beset with economic challenges. Others were certain the pink signs were an anonymous street campaign. Others simply said it made them happy to see something cheerful along the side of the road.
In early May, another sign appeared outside the Tribune's office. This one had a black question mark on it, but there was still no solution to the pink-heart riddle that had captivated the attention of the community.
The plot thickened.
Weekend reporting is tough in small communities. Most of the time it's covering community events. I had the good fortune of running into Maryanne at one such event on Sunday, and we chatted briefly about her next assignment for the day.
New signs had begun popping up in the past week alongside the original ones; these ones offered a time, date and location.
"I guess this will be the big reveal," Maryanne said. "So I'm heading over there next."
A typical reporter, Maryanne could only hope it was going to be a big, juicy event -- something that would take front page. "I hope it's not something really lame, or about the election," she said.
"Maybe it's some kind of big marriage proposal," I guessed. "You know, like the ones you see on YouTube. That would be fun."
We agreed that would be the ideal story, and parted company. I promised to check the paper's website later in the afternoon to see what the big story turned out to be.
Seldom does the reporter become the story, but in this case, that's exactly what happened. Maryanne's boyfriend of eight years, Ryan St. Denis, was the man behind the pink heart campaign, all an elaborate ruse to catch her nose for news and have her report on her very own marriage proposal.
It's a sweet end to a story that has given people something to talk about in town other than the provincial election and the challenges facing their community. For a change, the comments section of the newspaper's website are full of well-wishes for the happy couple.
And, according to Maryanne's editor, Dan Dakin (who had no idea he'd be getting a first-person story on his reporter's engagement for Monday's paper), It's also given the men in town a whole new benchmark for popping the question.
"I'm sure Maryanne's fiance has just left many women jealous and made many men go back to the drawing board for their own engagement plans," he said.
In case you have any doubt as to her answer, by the way, she said yes.
Thank you to David Johnson, Maryanne's former colleague and friend, for sharing his photos of the milestone event.
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